By Jason H. Harper
June 1, 2015

If you were offered the chance to participate in one offensive play in the Super Bowl, knowing full well you’d be utterly outplayed and certainly beat up, would you take it?

When it comes to endurance sports-car racing, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is the Super Bowl, World Cup and Carnival, all wrapped into one. As the name implies, it takes place over a 24-hour period, and the 8.5-mile course is known for its high speeds and tricky corners. For the hundreds of thousands of fans who attend each year, it’s also a massive party, complete with a carousel within the race track’s grounds.

I’m a (very) amateur race-car driver. So when I was offered the chance to participate in this year’s Le Mans festival, which occurs June 13-14, the idea was absurd, terrifying—and tempting.

Every year there is a 45-minute exhibition race that takes place just before the start of the official competition. Dozens of cars from a single carmaker race against one another, a warm-up to the real event. This year those cars will be a fleet of Aston Martins, and I’ll be in one of them. My teammate is Andy Palmer, the CEO of Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. So, no pressure there, either.

The Aston Martin race is open to a variety of prototype and GT cars that have previously raced at Le Mans. Sixty cars, piloted by “gentlemen drivers” — basically amateur drivers with varying degrees of real-world experience — will go wheel to wheel.

Palmer and I will share a new Aston Martin Vantage GT12, which looks similar to the road-going Vantage sports car, but gains a big rear wing and a full roll cage. It has a 6-liter V-12 engine with almost 600 horsepower. The car is unbelievably sexy looking, and it’s the real deal. I expect to reach speeds of up to 200 miles per hour.

The course itself, called Circuit de la Sarthe, includes miles and miles of two-lane public roads that are closed off once a year for the event. Speeds are incredibly high, and there is little run-off when things go wrong. There will be crashes.

A Brit with an easy smile who was previously an executive at the Nissan Motor Company, Palmer is also an amateur. He recently got some endurance-racing practice at the Britcar Dunlop 24-hour race in Silverstone, U.K., along with three teammates.

Palmer and I first met at the this year’s New York Auto Show in April, where we talked about Aston Martin’s long racing history and how it continues to evolve with cars like the Vantage GT12 and the Vulcan, shown in the accompanying video.

Palmer and I will share racing duties, but the car has only one seat. So, importantly, we had to decide who would start. We did it as gentlemen drivers should: Using rocks, scissors, paper. I won.

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